Eric Bachmann – s/t (Merge)
“I’m gonna love you like we’re all each other have,” promises Eric Bachmann, in a song (“Mercy”) about family estrangement, the politics of division, Armageddon, atheism, world suffering and other pleasant topics. Sure, that’s a lot to cram into five minutes with a “Be My Baby” beat and Beach Boys backing vocals. But it works—and then some. “Mercy” is devastating, a song that of course takes on extra resonance in yet another year of horrible headlines, especially south of the border. It’s a song I know I’ll be revisiting for the rest of my life. It’s that good.
It’s also not an anomaly. After eight masterful albums as a singer-songwriter (six of them under the name Crooked Fingers, with five more leading Archers of Loaf and two as the experimental chamber orchestra Barry Black), we’ve come to expect nothing less from Bachmann. After two years touring with Neko Case as part of her band, often playing keyboards, he wrote this album—his first in a whopping five years, the longest gap between any of his recordings—on piano.
The above paragraph, of course, means nothing, as does the fact this album is self-titled. It’s all window dressing, silly marketing bullet points for a new album by an artist who shouldn’t need any. This entire review is little more than yet another attempt, often to little or no avail, by a Bachmann believer (i.e. me) to convince you that the man is the greatest songwriter of our time. I can tell you that he’s in the company of Lou Reed, Vic Chesnutt, Bill Fay and Jason Collett and any other songwriter who eschews irony and emotional distance. I can tell you that he should be teaching songwriting classes to stadium-rock acts, that his work should be staples of open stages at pubs across the continent. Hope, loss, love, damaged psychology, grappling for faith in humanity—these are the songs of our times. Escapism it’s not, but these are subjects from which you cannot and should not escape, subjects that require a soundtrack.
I could just print out the entire lyrics to “Mercy” to prove my point. But I’d rather you go and hear it yourself. Because even if you’ve tired of me waving his flag, Bachmann keeps getting better with each record. He’s on a roll that’s lasted at least 15 years. And—Oh! Look! A self-titled record!—it’s almost like he’s good as new. (March 24)
Stream: “Mercy,” “Modern Drugs,” “Dreaming”